Today, we continue our pre-draft chat with Drafttek's Long Ball, whose expertise (as most of you know) is twofold: offensive line play and the Dallas Cowboys. So, he's perfectly poised to talk about your favorite team's draft prospects. Yesterday, in case you missed it, we took a global overview of the draft; today, we'll look at the offensive prospects, focusing on positions of need.
BTB: I’d like to begin by talking about prospects at each of the Cowboys offensive "need" positions. Let's start with your area of specialty, the "big uglies," specifically the interior offensive linemen. Last year, you gave us some good names (and some great insider info) on a whole slew of interior linemen; I’m hoping we can repeat the exercise.
Let's start at Center. Reports out of Valley Ranch suggest that the Cowboys are focused more on center than guard, which makes sense given Phil Costa’s struggles. If they solve this problem via the draft, Dallas will need him to play immediately. Can you give us a list of names of guys who, in your estimation, are plug-and-play: ready to start as rookies?
Long Ball: That’s easy: Peter Konz from Wisconsin, and he will cost a first round pick. I grabbed him in a previous simulation and the BTB readers were not too tickled. Ben Jones of Georgia is not any bigger or stronger than Costa, but has better technique; he will fit a ZBS scheme better.
BTB: I assume Jones will go in the second round, due in part to his game and in part to the paucity of talent at the position. After him, how far a drop is it to the next tier?
Long Ball: I’ll tell you who I would spend a second (or third, if I could get away with it) on is Brandon Washington out of Miami. He has played LOT for the Hurricanes, projects as OG but can also play center—and at 6’4" and 320 lbs, he’s a load!
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BTB: One of the OCs that got a lot of attention around Combine time was Baylor’s Philip Blake, who displayed crazy athleticism for such a big man. What is your impression of his game; does his tape approach his Underwear Olympics performance?
Long Ball: Philip Blake impressed the Cowboys enough at the Baylor Pro Day that new OL Coach Callahan went back down the following Monday to give him a personal workout. Blake is older (26 years old) and Canadian, just like Baylor’s fireman of last year, Danny Watkins. Two things stand out about him: 1) His ability to maintain low leverage and 2) His accuracy on shotgun snaps. If the Cowboys could get him with their third round pick, that would be good value (and yes, he can also play OG).
BTB: Nice. I know you were on the Kevin Kowalski bandwagon this time last year. Any late-round sleeper types in the 2012 OC crop?
Long Ball: A couple of "dark horse" names (not of the plug-and-play variety) I would keep an eye on in late rounds (or even as UDFA) would be Mason Cloy out of Clemson and Scott Wedige from Northern Illinois.
BTB: I’ll keep those names handy on draft day!
BTB: Okay, let's move outside a couple of feet, to guard. It seems like Dallas invited every possible top-50 interior lineman out to the Ranch for an early-April visit. After DeCastro, who do you have your eyes on—possibly as a candidate in round two?
Long Ball: Value in the 2nd round would include Kevin Zeitler of Wisconsin, a three-position player (both OG positions and OC), James Brown of Troy, Amini Silatolu of Midwestern State, and Jeff Allen of Illinois. The last 3 could kick out to OT (their college position) in a pinch.
BTB: Ah, you have anticipated my next question. Given that Jason Garrett seems to value quickness and good feet in his offensive linemen, any college offensive tackles that you see having to move inside in the NFL, a la David Arkin last year (and you weren’t the president of his fan club!)?
Long Ball: No, I wasn’t…LOL! Naturally, everyone wants DeCastro with that 1st round pick—and he’s a dandy—but let’s talk about a couple of "dancing bears" I would move in from OT. First on my list is James Brown of Troy University, who played LOT for the Trojans, measures 6’4", 318 lbs. and has excellent footwork. What really stands out on tape is his "old school" blocking style (punch, recoil, reset, punch, feet moving), which reminds me of Jason Pinkston from last year. I project Jeff Allen (6’4", 307) of Illinois also to move inside, I also like Tony Bergstrom from Utah (6’5", 315), the Utes LOT, and Lamar Holmes from Southern Miss (6’5", 320). One small school guy that I like I mentioned above: Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State, just up the road in Wichita Falls, Texas. He's a solidly built kid (6’3", 320) that moves well for his size.
BTB: I recently posted a scouting report on Silatolu. I LOVE the kid’s tenacity and nasty attitude; to my mind, he could provide something that the Cowboys offensive front has been missing for some time.
Long Ball: I like his "nastitude" as well, but he has to be coached up on technique. He was a man among boys at Midwestern, relying on his upper body strength entirely too much, and he will not have that advantage at the next level. I do like his hustle; after putting a "breakfast block" (pancake) on an opponent, he was constantly moving downfield to find another patsy, er, I mean opponent. I covered the specifics of technique improvement he needs to work on in my "Big Uglies" series (shameless plug)!
BTB: Nothing shameless about broadcasting good work! Now that they have added two free agent guards, the Cowboys’ hands aren’t tied at the position like they were a month ago: they can afford to draft and develop a guy. Any prospects who might fit that profile: not ready to start in September, but could be a monster in 2013 and beyond?
Long Ball: Well, if you’re talking "monster," Brandon Brooks (6’5", 343) out of Miami (OH) fits that description, and even though he wasn’t invited to the Combine, put on one helluva show at his Pro Day: 4.98 40-yard dash, 4.52 shuttle, 7.42 3-cone drill, 32" vertical, 8’09" broad jump and 36 bench reps. This gives him an explosion factor of 77 and a lateral agility factor of 0.45. His 32-5/8" arms promote a wingspan of 80-1/4". That’s moving a load! It should be unfair to be that big and that fast and that agile! Now with Wes Bunting (NFP) and me singing his praises, he may move up higher in the pecking order, but he was my dark horse in the Big Uglies series.
BTB: I love the kid, and quite happily picked him with a late second rounder I acquired from Pittsburgh in the BTB Writers mock. Okay, on to the "skill" positions. Because they weren’t able to match Jacksonville’s ridiculous contract offer to Laurent Robinson, the Cowboys suddenly find themselves with a hole at third receiver. The third guy could fit one of two profiles. Because they like to move Miles Austin inside in three wide situations, the third guy has to have the size and speed Dallas likes in its outside the numbers guys: about 6’2" and 200 lbs, with some wheels. Any candidates who fit that description who might be found after, say, the third round?
Long Ball: Tommy Streeter of Miami (FL) would fit the profile, but he has Roberto Duran hands. I’ll give you three names of fifth round (or later) prospects who I would look long and hard at: Dwight Jones of UNC (yeah, he fell off a bit, but still has talent and some good game tape), Jarrett Boykin of Va Tech, and the player that I have picked up some "scuttlebutt" that they are grading, Greg Childs of Arkansas.
BTB: That’s what I’m talkin’ about! All three are at least 6’1"—and Streeter, Jones and Childs are 6’3" or taller. They could join the 6’3" Raymond Radway and 6’4" Andre Holmes on the WR depth chart.
The other wideout profile I can see interesting the Cowboys is the waterbug, a slot guy who can do damage against linebackers and safeties underneath—and, preferably, is a weapon in the return game. Same drill: any likely third-day candidates fit the bill?
Long Ball: Going back to the great state of Arkansas, there are "twins" who are moving up the draft board, namely Joe Adams and Jarius Wright. And if Marquis Maze of Alabama is totally recovered, he’s a dandy as well. But a dark horse I would keep an eye on is T.Y. Hilton of Florida International. I graded his game against North Texas and he just took over that game. Outstanding talent in receiving, rushing and kick returns.
BTB: Me likey! The last position I can see the Cowboys drafting is tight end/ F-Back. Ideally, they’d grab a guy who can line up on the line and in the backfield, and block as well as catch. Those guys are very hard to find, however, so, with the addition of Lawrence Vickers to be a battering ram in the running game, I wonder if they’ll look for one of those new age TEs—a big, athletic receiver in the Jimmy Graham mold. The Saints grabbed Graham late in 2010’s third round. Any similar types that Dallas might snatch up with one of their two fourth round picks?
Long Ball: I personally think they will go with more of an "all-around" TE, with good blocking ability. George Bryan (6’5", 267) of North Carolina State, who is a Witten clone: good blocker, Velcro hands and, while not a burner, uses his big body to shield defenders and provides the QB a good target down the seam (sound familiar?)—and he might be available in the 6th round.
However, a couple of tall targets who have ample room to fill out their frames include Josh Chichester (6’7", 248) from Louisville, an outstanding receiver who needs to maintain low leverage on his blocking technique. You could probably get Chichester with a sixth or maybe a seventh; if you want to move up from the "economy class", Lardarius Green (6’6", 238) of Louisiana-Lafayette is a similar tall-target receiver, but the Ragin’ Cajun will cost a fourth round pick.
BTB: I know several people on the blog (Archie, cough, cough) have been ragin’ about Green, and would be thrilled to see him wearing the star in 2012. Okay, that’s a wrap for offensive positions of need y'all; give some love to Long Ball, who will join us again for part three, in which we look at potential defensive prospects.